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Tory Demand for Local Plan Review Hits ‘Purdah’ Barrier

Published on: 26 Mar, 2021
Updated on: 28 Mar, 2021

By Martin Giles

The perils of pre-election “purdah” have rebounded on the same Tories who ignored calls to delay voting in the much-disputed Local Plan until after the run-up to the May 2019 borough council election, only to lose 26 of their 35 seats and council control.

“Purdah” restrictions prevent a local authority from publishing anything which could affect public support for a political party when elections are pending.

Now a proposed Conservative motion for a review of the Local Plan to be debated at the next full GBC meeting has been amended by the council’s monitoring officer to make it less politically controversial.

Cllr Paul Spooner

“Unbelievable,” said Cllr Paul Spooner (Ash & South Tongham), who submitted the motion, seconded by Tory group leader Nigel Manning (Ash Vale).

Cllr Spooner added: “I am disappointed that politics is apparently being played within the council with the MO [monitoring officer] changing draft motions to supposedly ‘protect’ the council administration.”

Part of the former council leader’s motion reads: “This is now a coalition administration and R4GV stood for election on challenging the Guildford Local Plan and pledged to get it amended.

“Both the Liberal Democrat and R4GV administrations have failed to secure the key infrastructure needed and it is now clear that the most significant piece of infrastructure affecting Guildford Town Centre, namely the A3 Capacity Upgrade, can no longer be delivered in this Local Plan period.”

But Diane Owens, the council’s recently promoted MO, wants the underlined section removed because the council is in a “pre-election period”, the “purdah”.

GBC says a “pre-election period” affects all local authorities in a county, even if a single by-election is being held elsewhere.

In 2019, the then Tory GBC was advised, controversially, that they could hold debates and vote on the Local Plan just a week before the election.

Ms Owens said today (March 26): “The reason for the email and suggested alteration of the wording of the motion is set out in the email to Cllr Spooner. This is to ensure the council complies with Section 2 of the Local Government Act 1986.

“The MO considered her email containing advice to Cllr Spooner to be ‘privileged’ and therefore confidential but the email was not protectively marked in any way.”

Section 2 of the Local Government Act 1986

Cllr Spooner said: “I am not aware of the MO doing this on the grounds of purdah for SCC elections in the past, but to be fair there are three by-elections at GBC on the same day, and that might have an impact.

“I have no idea if the MO now reviews all motions. That was not the case prior to May 2019.”

In a recent letter sent to The Dragon, county Cllr Julie Iles (Con, The Horsleys), said her borough council party colleagues would be requesting a review. Now Tories Demand Review of Their Own 2019 Local Plan,

The letter caused a political storm, rival councillors and readers accusing the remaining eight GBC Conservative councillors of hypocrisy because of their previous support for the Plan.

The Conservative group maintain the Plan was sound when adopted, but some factors, including changes to the A3 required to support the new housing proposed under the Plan, now seem to be in doubt.

Guildford’s MP Angela Richardson has told The Dragon she is speaking to government ministers about the A3 improvements. But she expects there will need to be clear public support for them to be brought forward. She is inviting residents to sign a petition.

Angela Ricardson says on FaceBook: “I’m inviting everyone in Guildford and beyond to join my call to increase the capacity of the A3…”

The GBC Conservative group is said to have today reluctantly accepted the MO’s advice to amend the motion, to be debated at the next full council meeting on April 13. The SCC election and GBC by-elections are on May 6.

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test 3 Responses to Tory Demand for Local Plan Review Hits ‘Purdah’ Barrier

  1. Adam Aaronson Reply

    March 26, 2021 at 10:08 pm

    At the time of writing, the Monitoring Officer’s decision is, of course, still open to challenge by judicial review, which is an important and vital check on power open to any of us.

    However, it appears that the Tory party is not very keen on such challenges and the government is planning to reduce their scope: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-56442162

    So it looks like a judicial review would be a difficult and unpalatable option for any objecting Tory councillors.

  2. David Roberts Reply

    March 27, 2021 at 11:28 am

    The Tories have become a circus. First, an election gambit by Sir Paul Beresford, Cllr Iles and others to steal GGG’s clothes. Now, a desperate attempt at catch-up by Cllr Spooner and friends who were clearly blindsided by this.

    Should someone be invoking the public complaints procedure against them for bringing the council into disrepute? It’s a tactic they themselves are fond of.

    What will they do for an encore? A 2019-style wipe-out of Conservative councillors in the May election looms.

  3. Ben Paton Reply

    March 27, 2021 at 11:49 am

    Angela Richardson just does not get it. The problem is the Local Plan, not the A3.

    And now we learn that Paul Spooner does not respect the confidentiality of advice from GBC civil servants!

    It all maintains the fine traditions of the Guildford Conservative Party. It needs to be purged of its unprincipled local leadership before anyone can trust it.

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